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Of Moths And Men Hardcover – Aug 27 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton (Aug. 27 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393051218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393051216
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 16.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 680 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,886,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Hooper offers an engaging account of H.B.D. Kettlewell's famous field experiments on the peppered moth, which were widely known as "Darwin's missing evidence," proof of natural selection in action until 1998, that is, when biologist Michael Majerus showed Kettlewell's findings to be falsified and wrong. Hooper peers into the lives of Kettlewell and his mentor and eventual adversary, the imperious and brilliant E.B. Ford, revealing the human factors that don't get written into the research papers "recriminations, intrigue, jealousy, back-stabbing and shattered dreams." Ford, a Darwinian zealot hell-bent on proving natural selection, serves as a foil for the broader questions raised here about dogmatism in science. Natural selection had the dubious distinction of being as widely accepted as it was short on evidence, and the moth experiments were greeted as a pivotal victory; indeed, despite evidence to the contrary, many scientists today still embrace Kettlewell's findings, in part because denying them opens the door to "the bogeyman of creationism." As Hooper writes, the peppered moths provided "a damned good story, a narrative so satisfying, so seductive, that no one can bear to let it go. But a story alone is no substitute for truth." Hooper's lively history also traces the extinction of old-school natural history, embodied by Kettlewell, who was very much left behind with the synthesis of Darwinism and Mendelian genetics, and who died a suicide.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Recalling challenges to Mendel's statistical data or the veracity of the Piltdown man, this book places another scientific icon on the slippery slope of suspicion. The peppered moth said to have adapted its coloring to fit the environment, thus insuring its survival has been used to validate Darwin's theory of natural selection for almost 50 years. Now, this classic textbook case is being contested. In this absorbing historical account, reporter Hooper (The Three-Pound Universe) tracks initial efforts to meld Darwinism and evolutionary theory. Among the many contributors to this quest were Darwinian fanatic E.B. Ford and his prot‚g‚, outstanding lepidopterist H.B.D. Kettlewell, who performed the legendary experiment with light and dark moths that supposedly caught natural selection in the act. In fact, there have been doubts about the peppered moth experiments for the past 20 years or more, and Hooper shows how the scientists inadvertently sought to confirm their belief in natural selection rather than actually testing the hypothesis, changing methods when results did not agree with the selection hypothesis. As Hooper ably demonstrates, our understanding is molded by subjective as well as objective factors; self-interest, personality, contrasting worldviews, and human foibles influence the construction of scientific tests and the interpretation of evidence. An engaging detective story that elegantly brings the characters to life; suitable for public and academic libraries. Rita Hoots, Woodland Coll., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The fundamental rule of science journalism should be "first, get the science right". Unfortunately, Hooper's book is marred by One Big Mistake: namely, Hooper misrepresents the state of the scientific question on Kettlewell's explanation for industrial melanism in the peppered moth, namely differential predation by birds against moth morphs more or less cryptic in polluted woodlands. Reading Hooper's book, one would think that this thesis, what I call the "Bird Predation Theory" (BPT), was on the rocks. But this just ain't so -- if we read peppered moth researcher Michael Majerus' (2002) book Moths, we find him writing on page 252,
[E]very scientist I know who has worked on melanism in the Peppered moth in the field still regards differential predation of the morphs in different habitats as of prime importance in the case. The critics of work on this case and those who cast doubt on its validity are, without exception, persons who have, as far as I know, never bred the moth and never conducted an experiment on it. In most cases they have probably never seen a live Peppered moth in the wild. Perhaps those who have the most intimate knowledge of this moth are the scientists who have bred it, watched it and studied it, in both the laboratory and the wild. These include, among others, the late Sir Cyril Clarke, Professors Paul Brakefield, Laurence Cook, Bruce Grant, K. Mikkola, Drs Rory Howlett, Carys Jones, David Lees, John Muggleton and myself. I believe that, without exception, it is our view that the case of melanism in the Peppered moth still stands as one of the best examples of evolution, by natural selection, in action.
Hooper, however, presents the peppered moth case as if it were falling apart, a story which of course the press reviews have uncritically repeated.
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Format: Hardcover
Forget evolution. Just for a second, OK?
This is as engaging a book as you will ever come across. Judith Hooper is a terrific writer who has something to say to anyone remomtely interested or associated not only in science, but in pride and belief and truth and faith.
There is a review below (from a reader in Paris, France!) that has it all bang-on. You're left with many questions after reading this book. Is an idea/theory only as good as the people behind it and the examples they proffer? Are all scientists misogynists or liars or manic-depressives?
Hooper humanizes this sordid tale, and even with the tragic bits we can celebrate the triumph of scientific review. Debunking and revisionism are loaded terms, but as long as they're driven by a pursuit for the truth we should all be on the same team.
Let's remember evolution now, OK?
Even if moths did have a propensity to rest on tree trunks where enterprising birds could pick them off, what does that have to do with the grand unifying theory of evolution? Yes, certain phenotypes have better chances of getting you killed than other phenotypes, but does that explain speciation? The peppered moths have nothing to do with speciation.
And Of Moths and Men have nothing to do, essentially, with evolution. It has every thing to do with the natural tendency of human beings to believe what they want to believe, and this desire will drive us to do just about anything, including play with moths.
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Format: Hardcover
The story of the peppered moths is presented here in an engaging manner and with ample references to the original literature. The author has interviewed many persons and studied the various aspects very carefully. Much information is brought together for the first time. The problem faced by the Darwinists at the middle of the 20th century was that there was no convincing case study in support of their theory. Ambitious academic scientists seized upon the peppered moths as offering the best hope for such an example. The moths were thought to shift over the generations from a light-colored version to a dark-colored one as the degree of industrialization increased and soot accumulated on trees making them darker, due to birds preferentially eating the light ones that stood out against the background of the trees on which they rested.
The troubles with this are many-fold, and the author deserves credit for bringing them out so clearly. She notes for example, that the peppered moths had already been offered up in the 1890s to the Darwinists, but they had then rejected the example since they knew that birds don¹t eat these moths. In fact bats are the major predators, since the moths are only active at night and during the day rest under branches of trees where birds can�t see them.
The case history was created by the Darwinists of the mid 1950s through careful fudging of experiment design and the author lays out the case for this conclusion. She even has checked the weather records to see if a change in conditions could have caused the abrupt change in the results observed in the field in the critical experiments, and finds that the weather was very stable.
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Format: Hardcover
If you got any exposure to evolution in school, it is quite likely that you saw the evolutionists' prime example of survival of the fittest, the peppered moth, _Biston betularia_. These were a visual hit; moths came in light colored and dark colored (melanic) forms. The light colored were hard to see on natural trees covered in lichen, and the melanic ones were hard to see on trees darkened by decades of soot from the British version of the Industrial Revolution. Research in the 1950s showed that as the trees darkened, so did the moths; predator birds couldn't see the melanic forms as well, so their race prospered, produced progeny, and overtook the typical light colored ones. (There is an important subtext to this manifestation, that of human degradation of the environment.) The great problem with the theory of evolution by natural selection is that it describes changes over thousands of years, but the moths' changes over decades was an example of rapid environmental change that proved Darwin right. The problem was that they did no such thing. There were quiet objections to the research as it was being done, but it was such a hit that only in the past few years have biologists seriously cried foul by showing its many flaws. Now a clear and informative book, _Of Moths and Men: The Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth_ (Norton) by Judith Hooper tells the story of the personalities involved, how the mistakes came to be made, how they were eventually uncovered, and what the outcome of the affair was.
In 1953, Bernard Kettlewell started the experiments to give numbers to the speculation that melanic moths were being naturally selected. He was a brilliant amateur moth expert, a tall, loud man, full of boisterous enthusiasm for his work, but the loudness hid deep insecurity.
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